YOUR picture of a university undergraduate might be big lectures, parties, and an occasional all-nighter. But for the generation studying now, it's been laptops, pyjamas, and often isolation and stress.
Mid March 2020 thousands moved their studies online as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Eighteen months later, many of them are still learning largely from a screen.
For some learning online in 2020 was freeing, allowing them to study at a distance, and work as well. But many spoke about feeling lonely, demotivated, and struggling to take in dryer material.
Six Bendigo students have shared their stories of study online with us.
Most now have at least some classes face-to-face. And they say even just a few in person opportunities have made a difference.
They're not the only ones keen to get back into the classroom. La Trobe University says it hopes to move more learning back to face-to-face in the coming six months.
Imogen Kendal chose to study outdoor education partly because of its focus on face-to-face learning. She came to the degree from an online diploma, during which discovered online learning just didn't work for her brain.
Starting in 2020, Miss Kendal's first year was stressful. She was caught up in Melbourne's first lockdown, she found herself constantly staring at a screen, feeling bad, but not sure if taking a break would be wasting time.
Coming into 2021 she was a bit scared, worried her year would look similar.
"I knew how much energy it took from me last year. I was just like: I don't know if I can do that all again this year," Miss Kendal said.
When her course moved online Miss Kendal could see teachers didn't know how to adapt to the environment, teaching a course that wasn't made for the setting.
Outdoor education's frequent trips were cancelled or postponed, taking place at the end of the year when restrictions eased.
Overall the experience left Miss Kendal feeling like she learnt only a "teeny bit" of the foundation she should have. She said it also felt like the cohort barely knew each other.
This year, most of Miss Kendal's semester one lectures and tutorials were online. But she said one subject in particular was mostly on campus, for which she was grateful.
Miss Kendal said the face-to-face subject just made so much sense to her, in complete contrast to her other two, where it was an effort to just show up.
"I barely did all my lectures, it just didn't feel like there was a point to it," Miss Kendal said.
"Being able to get through those was pretty tough."
Now Miss Kendal just wants to finish her degree, so she can start working. It's very different to how she felt about studying when she began.
It was quite a good year for Lachie Saunders. Online learning meant he could spend it at home in the Northern Territory, working as a park ranger while studying his third year of outdoor education.
It got to a point where the state barely had any restrictions.
Mr Saunders said he was grateful for the chance to put theory into action, with work, and running camps for his old school.
He made the decision to return home to the Northern Territory when the first lockdowns were announced. In October he flew back to Victoria to make up on missed coursework trips.
Josh Parris struggled through his first semester of information technology in 2020. Studying online was just too hard.
He'd finished another degree in 2019, which was "no comparison": the whole course was in person.
Mr Parris deferred the IT degree to the next semester, then the next. In semester two, 2021, he studied until the census date, then decided to drop out.
He said online studies were demotivating. He'd go to classes on Zoom, watch a recorded lecture, then try to do the assignments.
Mr Parris said it seemed like many lecturers' gifting was in face-to-face teaching: some would go too fast online - with the whole class falling behind - others would be too slow - with the whole class bored. Both were issues they would quickly notice in the classroom, Mr Parris said.
Mr Parris said he also found it difficult online to ask questions to clarify concepts without disrupting the class.
Moving online also meant being stuck at home. Mr Parris said fellow students formed online communities to help each other, but it just wasn't the same as on campus.
"The social dynamic to learning is so critical, it's almost to the point of essential. Some students really need it," Mr Parris said.
The university's perspective
At La Trobe, staff also hope more learning will be face-to-face this semester.
Global and regional deputy vice-chancellor Richard Speed said it depended on restrictions, but the university also hoped to offer more in person teaching.
"Many of our students study with us for the campus experience. The Bendigo campus is fantastic, but it needs people around to activate it," Professor Speed said.
"We're conscious that many of the students signed up for that, and we're looking to deliver it as best we can given the health restrictions."
Despite this, Professor Speed said many students were choosing to take a subject online, even when they had a face-to-face option, as they balanced work or children with their studies.
Professor Speed said feedback from students over the past 18 months was heartening, showing that they really appreciated the university's effort to move online.
He said a lot of students' experience was determined by what they were expecting. For many who had enrolled in existing online courses, they valued it, whereas many undergraduate students were expecting face-to-face learning.
The support of others got Eloise Gretgrix through her first year studying paramedicine: largely online during 2020.
Her partner and her friends - who had finished their first year of the course already - and the course coordinator, were all able to tell her to push through, because it would get better.
Miss Gretgrix said she missed the social element of university, especially back home at her parents' house. She also felt the subjects with dryer material became a lot harder online.
"I did consider dropping out in the beginning, because I wasn't sure if it was what I wanted to do," Miss Gretgrix said.
"I found it very hard to not be around other people. It made uni, and just like the life at home, quite boring and quite hard for me."
But 2021 has been a lot better. Miss Gretgrix said at her very first practical class, she knew staying enrolled had been the right decision.
"It was worth it and I realised that was what I wanted to do, when it started to become more real," she said.
Outdoor education student Finnian Wrigley said the pinch on his course began before the pandemic hit, with cuts to staff.
Mr Wrigley said he was outraged by the way La Trobe had managed the course through the past few years.
"They've just cut staff, they've just forced the course into a really watered down version of what it was," he said.
Mr Wrigley said overall the pandemic response - moving learning largely online - was managed "okay", but ultimately outdoor education was an impossible degree to study virtually.
For Mr Wrigley, it was disappointing to miss the course's frequent trips in 2020, which were postponed, and some later cancelled.
He said those practical experiences were often crucial to understanding how to operate safely. For him, missing them made it feel like it wasn't the full degree.
For Letitia Bardawil studying at home meant remote NSW, with a primary aged sister around, and a barely stable wifi connection.
It was her first year of a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Medical) at La Trobe Bendigo, after transferring from another course.
Miss Bardawil said she was lucky enough to make friends in the few weeks she spent physically in Bendigo, early in 2020.
She said it was a crazy transition, going from resource-heavy university life in Bendigo to small town NSW.
Miss Bardawil said it was hard to stay motivated, but university support had been strong.
Miss Bardawil said 2021 had been a bit better, with a few small bumps: notably, the latest COVID-19 lockdown hitting during exam period. At one point this meant she drove the six hours home, then sat an exam that night.
She said the past 18 months had been very different to how she pictured university: more sitting in front of a screen than what she imagined.
But Miss Bardawil said she hoped more of her course would move to face-to-face, as more people were vaccinated across Australia.
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